How to build the perfect home bar

Rod Moore, owner of the Modern Bartender and the Shameful Tiki Room, with some essentials for the home bar. Dan Toulgoet photo.

Back in 2012, when Rod Moore was about to open his dream bar, the Shameful Tiki Room, he ran into a problem. “It was a nightmare trying to find stuff – even basic tools and bitters,” he says, remembering running all over town to find shakers, jiggers, strainers and glassware. As for specialty tiki mugs? Not a chance.

So, naturally, he opened a store: the Modern Bartender, which carries all of the bar tools anyone could ever need. “I had enough ego to think I’d come up with the idea,” he says, with a laugh. “All the big American cities – and Toronto, of course – have a store like this. It’s not a huge market, but there’s enough to keep us going.”

Since then, as cocktail culture has moved into the mainstream, it’s become a whole lot easier to find bar tools at retailers ranging from Hudson’s Bay to Indigo to Pottery Barn. True, some are prettier than they are useful, which is why the pros still head to the Modern Bartender for their Yarai mixing glasses and teardrop bar spoons.

But any tool is better than nothing. You simply cannot make proper cocktails without the right gear. So, if you plan to make drinks at home, you’ll need to invest in a few essential pieces. “The basics are, you need some sort of mixing vessel, whether it’s a shaker style or a mixing glass with a spoon,” says Moore.

Classic cocktails are split evenly between stirred drinks – martinis, Old Fashioneds and the like – and shaken drinks. If you prefer one over the other, then invest in that. However, you might as well get both and leave all options open.

Dan Toulgoet photo.

When it comes to shakers, many home bartenders go for the somewhat fiddly three-piece cobbler, which has a built-in strainer. Pros, though, prefer the control and simplicity of a two-piece shaker, whether it’s the cheap glass-and-tin Boston shaker or the luxe Parisienne or Calabrese models, which will run you $50 and up.

As far as mixing glasses go, the classic is the Japanese yarai glass ($30-$60), with its diamond-etched pattern. To accompany that, you’ll also need a bar spoon, which can cost from $5 to $50.

In addition you’ll need a jigger (a one- or two-ounce model with smaller measurements marked on the inside), as well as a sharp knife and a Hawthorne strainer (the one with coils), which is good for most drinks. If you’re making a lot of stirred drinks, you might also want a julep strainer, and if you’re shaking a lot of drinks, a fine-mesh strainer is a good idea.

Those are the core tools. But you can stock your bar with plenty of other fun gadgets, including muddlers, juicers, bitters bottles, metal straws, vintage (or reproduction) glassware, even an absinthe fountain.

Whatever you buy, invest in quality. The cheap tools break and bend; the markings wear off, and so do the finishes. Worse, cheap tools don’t work as well. They don’t feel as good in your hand, and they can turn making cocktails into a chore rather than a joy.

“When people come in and they’re just starting out, I’ll tell them, ‘I get it. You don’t want to drop $200 on something you’re just starting with,” says Moore. “But if you stick with it, you’ll wish you spent the money. If you stay with this, you’re going to appreciate a better tool. And that applies to everything.”

The Modern Bartender is located at 28 E. Pender.

Recipe: Navy Grog

Rod Moore’s favourite tiki cocktail – one of the most popular at his Shameful Tiki Room – is adapted from the one popularized by the legendary Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.    

• 1 oz (30 mL) Appleton gold rum
• 1 oz (30 mL) Lemon Hart demerara rum
• 1 oz (30 mL) Havana Club 3-year-old rum
• 0.75 oz (20 mL) lime juice
• 0.75 oz (20 mL) grapefruit juice
• 0.75 oz (20 mL) honey syrup (see note)
• 1 oz (30 mL) soda water

Place all ingredients in a blender with crushed ice and flash-blend for 3 or 4 seconds. Pour unstrained into a rocks glass. Add crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a spent lime shell and a sprig of mint. Serves 1.

Note: To make honey syrup, mix together equal parts honey and hot water until well blended.


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